Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Handmaid's Tale

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fantasy/Dystopia

Publisher: Everyman's Library
Publishing Date: October 17th 2006 (first published 1985)
Hardcover: 350 pages

Stand Alone or series: stand alone

Where did I get this book: Library (as usual)

Summary:(from goodreads)
A gripping vision of our society radically overturned by a theocratic revolution, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale has become one of the most powerful and most widely read novels of our time.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Now she navigates the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules.

Like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid's Tale has endured not only as a literary landmark but as a warning of a possible future that is still chillingly relevant.


I have to admit I’m not a big fan of “classics” or books that seem to be put on every “Must Read” list. It’s not that I don’t doubt some of the books are good (or impacted literature or culture at the time); it’s just that there tends to be too much hype surrounding them. War and Peace? Couldn’t even finish. Jane Austen? Not too impressed. That being said, I did enjoy A Handmaid’s Tale (I have a terrible soft spot for dystopia).

I thought the story itself was incredibly interesting. Since it was written as a sort of journal, it also had an impact I don’t think it would have had if written otherwise. When Offred is struggling, you struggle with her. When Offred begins to hope, you find yourself snatching at the tiny gleaming thread with your whole being.

It’s one of those books where you just keep wishing for a happy ending (if you’ve read She Comes Undone you know exactly what I mean).

The thing about books like this though, is it makes it difficult to understand exactly what’s going on at times. Since it’s written in the first person, Offred speaks about things as if the reader knows exactly what she’s alluding to. The problem is we don’t. I didn’t even get a firm understanding of exactly what it was that happened to Offred until far into the book. Though some vagueness is usually a good thing, I noticed there was a point where it hurt the story in my opinion because I started to skim and rush through passages.

In some situations skimming happens because a book is just so damn good you have to know what happens NOW (seventh Harry Potter I’m looking at you), but in this situation it was almost like I couldn’t get any more interested in the story until I understood what the hell was going on.

Did that make sense?

Atwood also didn’t give much explanation as to why the situation Offred was in came about. I mean, the women in her dystopian aren’t even allowed read signs – there’s got to be a reason for this. (I know that a lot of dystopias don’t go into how the situation was created, but I thought a little more info would have been beneficial in this situation.)

Then there was the ending. I though Atwood’s ending was well done, but it did leave me unsatisfied. No matter how well I can understand why an author will write an unexplained ending, I’m always a bit disappointed in it (Go Ask Alice is a perfect example).

Notable Quotes/ Parts:
"Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn't really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing." - chapter 23

Rating: 6 - Good, but might not be for everyone.

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